Post traumatic stress disorder and complex trauma

Post traumatic stress disorder and complex trauma

It’s a much talked about corundum and something that can be incorrectly diagnosed, but experiencing these two mental health symptoms is so very different. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is mostly the result of a specific episode, an individual subjected to the horror of rape or being witness to a horrific act or incident. All of which can take someone to a place of complete breakdown with the outcome that mental health intervention is sorely required. For the most, it can be related to a singular experience by the individual concerned, which of course doesn’t make it any less horrendous. Even if experienced over a prolonged period of time i.e. a soldier returning home brings with him images that he has been subjected to whilst on deployment, although it would have been experienced over a longer period of time, it remains a singular episode and unbroken. This, of course, could easily become a different situation if he were to be deployed again in the future, and eventually relating and migrated to complex trauma.


I mention PTSD here alongside complex trauma for comparison, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. Unlike complex trauma, this disorder can now be addressed with complete concentration on the content of the said act, directly, and deliberately. It’s recognised within its own particular area and it stands alone within that support. It can now be reached through that support far more successfully. With the knowledge as to when it started and when it reached its conclusion. Concentration can then be applied in the most helpful direction. But this is a scenario that is so completely different from those suffering from complex trauma. Yes, there will be a beginning but the end is so far out of sight, that it’s never really believed by the individual that it will stop because it’s unimaginable.

Complex trauma often reaches back as far as childbirth, it’s the only template available in which to build upon it’s the only experience that’s remembered. Love was never shown protection and care was never given, nurturing is unknown, and any help in which to grow within life’s structure just doesn’t exist. Yes, its life but only by the smallest of margin any positivity is alien they just exist each day reliving the torture. They re-experience all of the of pain, fear, mistrust, and anxiety. There is no sense of being or of mattering, abuse is always the state of mind, and they are treated as inhuman. Never able to find hope within themselves whilst used and abused, and even at times sold to another for pleasure.

They are lost, clearly not seen they are nothing to those that should have been their protectors. They are just a commodity no more and for sure so much less. Predicting how this child will be able to deal with life and function within their future as an adult, well it could be that it has already been mapped out in front of them. Their journey of abuse is the only one in which they have ever known, and it will almost certainly leave them without the art of parenting skills, which may in time be required with their own children. Sadly for some, the effects of abuse will continue directly through them and on to their children and then on to their children’s children. As the abusive pattern continues to spiral out of control affecting so many lives. At times, without it even being a conscious decision but just where could they have learnt the art of parenting? All they have ever had access to enabling them to make reference is their abuse so just how would they know? That’s not even a serious question.

I also want to mention here generational complex trauma, which is extremely prevalent and held within a particular individual or a whole nation. The atrocities suffered in every sense can only amount to being mass murder. The destruction of their ancestors forever altering the landscape whilst fleeing in fear from the place they called home. This will always be held within and the succession of those to come after them will forever feel it’s repercussions. Unwillingly, they have become a catalyst a tool of transference and it is carried through the centuries. Nowhere feels like home no matter where they reside, their country had been sociologically raped, their culture denied, out of necessity they are spread to the four corners of the earth. Their identity compromised and never able to feel a deep connection anywhere, just how can they feel a sense of belonging? There are so many unanswered questions and no repercussions it seems at all for the perpetrators not even an admission of their crimes.

Suffering from complex trauma is a completely different issue than PTSD it has an enhanced set of symptoms and the support required is also very different. We are no longer dealing with a single episode or event but a mammoth range of repeated experiences, without doubt, complex trauma will contain an array of abuse which can be within all avenues. That may and still can be felt within that individual and nation even today. In essence, there will be a complete jumbled mess of consistent abuse, creating immense pain and suffering on a daily basis, without doubt, it leaves them feeling that there really is no future or release.

Abuse is not always felt as being sexual, there is a range of abusive situations that will leave that child forever struggling, indoctrinated by a set of belief that will need to be addressed in adulthood. So let’s list but a few here. Along with sexual abuse, there is psychological abuse, physical abuse, complete neglect, rejection and starvation. Sadly for many, they have suffered within all of the above. Just where do they go to find that someone that has been lost inside? Some will never be able to do so, for others it will take many years of therapy, even then it will never really leave them. Sadly it’s a legacy they will be forever left with.

Travelling through such a complex set of circumstances completely owned controlled and unloved, how can they ever really trust any support or recovery offered when abuse is never-ending? When there are so many overwhelming continual episodes of abuse to deal with, and even more so if this abuse is still in their present. Of course it could now be in the distant past, but even so, it would still have spanned over so many years of their life. Repeated and continued abuse in any manner imaginable. So very often it’s a family member or even members, and then there really is nowhere to escape. For some, they may have been caged in or chained to the wall, left alone until needed sexually that was their reality, never ever to feel needed in any positive aspect of the word. Just how can the past be redressed in the here and now? when tomorrow is feared? When abuse is something as felt like part of you? when each day brings with it abuse, terror, and sexual acts. With the uncertainty of never knowing when or how. When there is nothing you can do but to exist in this horrendous living nightmare of a doomed existence.

The above for me is something that I myself lived through since the age of seven, and it is still ever present today in a turn of fate, that in all honesty, I was half expecting. Even now at the ripe old age of sixty, it seems I am to continue along this road that I’ve somehow come to expect. It has been forever present in my life, it has always been there for as long as I can remember. It is an integral part of who I am because it was placed there so very long ago, but it no longer holds any power over me in that manner we have parted ways. I am now able to stay within my truth and I can now see my worth. I am extremely lucky to have now found the strength to stand my ground and it took time, I guess on learning that even with support, it was still something that ultimately I alone had to deal with and it created a change in me. Whilst within the arms of that given support they were only ever able to go so far and that is by no means their undoing. It’s the system that continues to fail so many child abuse survivors. Even when support is given whilst trying to deal with our abusive past and maybe even in the here and now it can be addressed, but when the here and now is ever changing and the oncoming future is completely unknown. Well, the professions are also lost…

In this type of situation, the fault can never really be placed at the feet of any support you are receiving, they really aren’t able to have input with the unknown. There is only one place where we can put this down and it’s none other than at the feet of our abuser. Unfortunately, at times there is another to include, who has also been left with our abusers legacy whilst living within entanglement and a web of lies. Here we see just how it’s possible to invade the mind of an innocent by the abusers sheer will power alone, simply because their own life has also been controlled they were also subjected to their own scenario of abuse. In all truth, knowing the person that they were subjected to in my own case, I can clearly see that they never really had a chance. The abusive control within their own existence is still ever felt and taken as if said by the gods so just where does this ever end? You can clearly see the pattern.

In truth for me, I now find myself faced with this ongoing mental abuse and the much-wanted control by another, directly delivered through my abuser’s manipulation. Yes, he may be gone but I am to be reminded that in essence he is never really gone. The big difference is that I am now within a completely different place in my life, I have taken control of myself and my actions and they are and will now always be mine. Even with many years of therapy behind me which although enormously helpful, I came to accept that it was me that would have to make that difference which was much required. I arrived at a point where I had to choose and so I consciously made that choice, never again would I be directed by another I had to take back my life.

I had reached a point of recognition it was either fight or flight and it was no longer in my nature to do the latter. We all survive the best way we know how but I was no longer going to stay within that flight. I had arrived at a point of understanding that it was no longer an option for me no matter the cost, I was done running period! I would face that which was in front of me as I embarked on a journey with a completely different mindset. Control of my life had to be mine by either dealing with it directly or controlling the element at a distance. I’m far from saying that it was an easy thing to do, and it requires management daily. But I’m now able to do just that by using a structure that I have created within my own growth and recovery and it’s so very far removed from my abuse.

So let’s talk a little more about complex trauma. It is so very different than PTSD speaking from my own experience. Which in all truth is all I can do. But just maybe, by sharing a little more of myself it may give others a little more understanding. My aim here is not to give you direction, but to hopefully help you to find your own direction because information is never unhelpful it’s instructive in the direction of understanding. I.e. my experience will differ from your own and it still hasn’t reached its end, but the big difference here is that I had reached my end. There would be no more. It was then that I had to stay strong but the details I am unfortunately not able to share with you here because they are unnecessary. I also feel that just by doing so I would somehow be relinquishing my power. But more so I would in a sense be giving my abuser air time power over me and my life, that is something they will never again receive from my direction even if demanded through inheritance.

In trying to explain complex trauma it’s so extremely difficult to find the right words because it’s beyond overwhelming, it’s a state of being stuck in a place of pain where there seems to be no end. So for myself, I created a safe place as a child somewhere that the devil couldn’t follow me. In truth, it was just too unnerving, painful, and gripping to be able to stay there my whole body was in a state of alert. But somehow I had arrived at a place of acceptance without choice, I had to change that feeling even if only within my mind. Within my own being, I could no longer stay in that place of sexual abuse, and any hope of it being removed had long past been extinguished within me. There really was nothing that I could do for so many years because I was just a child, I was only just in essence existing I was living my life like a ghost. At that time abuse became something I had to live with only ever counting the hours until the next time. I couldn’t even imagine a place where it wasn’t there if this was my reality (bodily) I just couldn’t stay there.

My abuse was known, painfully felt, and somehow it had become the norm I lived within it daily, and so I had to adjust my life accordingly. I lived in a potential world without joy I never remembered or experienced any happiness. I was in a world of pain without recognition I wasn’t even noticed. I felt unimportant without a voice it had long been taken from me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Somehow I was in a world of shadow, overly more, that was just where I wanted to be within that shadow. Because then just maybe I really would go unnoticed but that was never my reality. But I could leave my reality and abuse behind in the only way possible for me whilst still being there bodily. Although it was only through circumstance in my adult life, that I would ever come to this realisation and remembrance. I am now able to recognise just how and why I conduct my life in the here and now. This would only become known to me at the hands of my abuser and ultimately it was to become his undoing.

So out of necessity that’s just what I did, I just left me behind I was in an altered state of complete separation from my being. Even though the acts were occurring right in front of me it was no longer happening to me. That was someone else, it was someone that I was able to see at a distance, but I was only watching the said sexual act as if I were a conscious observer. Every physical activity or touch was seen but not felt bodily. My mind had become a filter. Everything was just passing through me, I felt no shame, I felt nothing, how could I because my only crime was being there right? Yes I felt sorry for that other child at the other end of the room but I couldn’t do anything, I was in a bubble of my own creation nothing could penetrate my world in that place I was always safe.

Once this process had started it would continue to be with me for a lifetime, it really was where I learnt the art of separation and I continue to do so when needed. Although I am no longer in a place of sexual abuse, as we know, abuse doesn’t need to be sexual. The mind games continue either spoken or unspoken and threats will always remain a need for concern. It’s how I deal with that concern that now differs from its creation as that very young child I am now an adult and I’d done my homework. As that adult, I am now able to stand at a distance from life’s tests and painful emotions and it is now something that I mostly do with ease. Which has meant that as a seemingly functioning adult I can at times be seen as being aloof or withdrawn? That I am unaffected by any of the traumatic events that may be going on all around me. What’s not seen is the complexity of the happenings within me. I am once more engaged in that stand-off position where filtering has begun as I observe everything objectively, I am within a thought process which needs that withdrawal, I’m in a place of safety within that bubble that I created as a child.

This is where I rearrange everything to a correct place of seating by untangling my emotions, and I leave this world behind me for a time to deal with the problem I am faced with. I open a box deep within me where I place that happening by the use of my own sheer will power. Which oddly I had learnt from that childhood abuse so very long ago and then I detach myself from the issue. I place that once dealt with the problem within that box and that’s where it remains locked within. With a knowing that I am the only one with access to that key. In truth, although ironically said this process has served me well at times in my adulthood for the good. But the art of this skill has also taken so much away from me in other avenues. When thought about I guess my abuse has taught me something in life, that survival without choice can be altered to survival with choices. It was either do that or die and for all of us, the instinct for survival is without a doubt always prevalent.

Complex trauma is a psychological disorder that develops in response to prolonged abusive and repeated experiences, it’s interpersonal, a situation in which the individual has little chance or no hope of escape. It’s a world of delayed response to trauma to include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, and flashbacks. For me, it also became that in which I could use the art of avoidance from my emotions or anxiety at any given moment. Complete withdrawal back into my world of darkness because I feel at that time it’s my only option, it was tried and tested, eventually it never fails me. Going within means confronting memories which will always bring pain on the point of entry, but once I’m there, I know just how to control that emotion from a distance. This is what I know and so I return to it because at the time of doing so it seems far safer than facing that which is unknown. This is a legacy which I have carried for a lifetime and it’s so very ironic, that returning to that place seems far safer than the place I sometimes find myself within in the here and now. When faced with a situation that is not controllable it’s where I return to take back that control, and I stay there until control is ready to leave with me and we return to a life together.

For myself, I have been lucky enough to mostly now avoid that return journey without feeling too much pain from my past abuse, I’m thankful. I am now able to go within at a much shallower entry and I’m still able to do the work required. Without the need to go deeper where I had eventually been able to place my past abuse. But this is a much-practised art that took me many years to accomplish and it requires that I distance myself from everyone and everything. I am then able to put my full attention on the task confronting me and the rearrangement required of that crowded space within begins. It has become for me somewhat like second nature where I don’t really need to confront my abuse anymore, I am entering that place for a completely different reason I’m not there to unearth my past. I am there in a completely altered state of mind. I’m here to find the answers in my present not to face the questions of the past they have long ago all been asked and answered.

I can now step around it with ease, but of course, that does not mean that the outcome I return with will be one of my own liking, it just means that I can now deal with it objectively. Simply because I have removed myself from any emotional reaction. Of course, my self-removal is not always seen as being helpful to others, but not to do so would create a situation of no control whatsoever. Control is something that I could nor would ever lose again because today I will never be placed in a situation of no control. So for me, it is my lifeline and at that time of removal, it is in everyone’s interest that I do so.

Events in life will at times always catch us out and when we are unaware of something’s arrival, we will sometimes fall resulting in us being somewhat battered and bruised. But it is never about how many times we fall it is about how many times we get back up. For sure, I’m not spared these events by any means either they still come along. I have my own share to contend with at times even with this practised art at my disposal. But for the main, I now stand for who I am and not who I had been made to feel. I now know beyond any doubt that my innocence was taken from me and it was not freely given. It’s for us all to remember that we are who we can be and not how we were made to feel. And yes, we do have the right to life after our child abuse even though our childhood may be lost to us. We really do have a future if we take hold of it and live within life’s precious moments in spite of our abuse. But even more so because of it, and with that now hopefully altered mindset it becomes so very clear as to just how precious those moments are.

As abused children in adulthood we are a complex structure but surely that also means that given time we are able to structure complexity…….


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